This is a teen-written article from our friends at Youth Communication, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth develop their full potential through reading and writing. Some details from this young author's story have been changed.
By B. Lee
When the three of us entered the psych ward, I was struck by the quiet. The patients padded through the halls in their socks. You could see your reflection in the polished floor, and when sunlight hit the white walls, tiles, and ceiling, the place looked soft and gentle.
My mother, father, and I were led down a corridor. I glimpsed a very thin man whose clothes hung off of him; a pregnant woman in a patient’s gown waddled behind him.
The hallway widened into the visitor center and we spotted my sister Tina, my only sibling, eating alone at a table. She looked worn out. Her face was expressionless and her short hair was a greasy mess. On the sleeve of her sweater I noticed a red stain.
“I had a nosebleed,” she explained.
We kept the conversation light. Tina told my parents and me stories about her roommate, a grouchy elderly woman, and another patient named Robert, who nicknamed her “College Girl” and liked to talk about physics. She seemed to be chattering to entertain us. But then she told us about another friend she had made, a bipolar woman who had thrown herself in front of a train but survived.
At this, my mother muttered “Poor you…” sarcastically, implying that Tina was complaining about being in here with these more disturbed people, as if Tina was spoiled and ungrateful. My sister looked down at her lap and didn’t respond. The fact was that Tina had told her psychologist just a week earlier that she wanted to kill herself.
“What are you eating?” my mother ventured, and my sister pointed to the food on her tray, from the peaches, to the chocolate milk, to the rice.
“I’m gaining weight,” my sister said with a smile. She has been underweight all her life. She often doesn’t eat because she’s afraid of getting fat.
“That’s great! Your face looks a little fuller too,” my mom responded.
Tina frowned, and looked at me.
“Why are you dressed like that?” she asked about my formal clothing.
I shrugged. “I had to look fancy for this ceremony.”
Earlier that day, I’d been accepted into my high school’s honor society. I smiled brightly when I shook the principal’s hand. I posed with my certificate, and ate celebratory bagels with my classmates, but all I could think about was the upcoming visit and how my sister was doing.
Tina nodded and then pulled the bottle of chocolate milk off the tray.
“You can have it. I don’t really like chocolate.”
We sat there while she ate the rest of her food.
Tina is four years older than me. She has always had something “off” about her, even when we were little kids. She fidgets. She can’t cut her nails because she’s afraid of slicing her fingers, so she lets them grow out until they look like claws, then files them for hours. When she checks the locks at night, she throws her weight against the door to test the lock’s strength. This pounding noise will go on and on for about 20 minutes, and afterwards she often just stands worriedly at the door.
It’s one thing to have quirks and strange rituals. As a kid, I found it funny. Once when I was little, she heard about a burglary on the news, and asked me if I had checked the locks. I responded that I’d seen strange men in the living room the night before. Now I realize that’s mean, but we were younger and I didn’t realize her paranoia would get so out of hand.
By the time she entered her third year of college, about a year ago, Tina had developed more serious problems. She couldn’t handle the stress of her schoolwork. She had to get 100% on every test and would stay up all night skimming the pages of her textbook. The lights would be on until 5 a.m. During finals she began having panic attacks.
“It’s like my head is going to explode,” is how Tina described the panic attacks to me. We shared a room, so I could see how bad it was getting. She barely slept and when she did, she cursed and screamed because of nightmares.
Tina obsessed over things that didn’t matter, or else she spun fantasies about the future. She began to seem more and more disconnected from reality. She recently said to me, “When I graduate, we’re going to live together, and I’ll buy you a puppy!”
When she said things like that, I acted delighted, trying to show her it wasn’t that hard to be cheerful. “Yay!” I felt like a pet dog when I blinked at her, looking simple-minded and unconditionally loving, when inside I was losing my patience and would rather be somewhere else.
Though Tina is so open with me, her friends from school don’t know about her problems, and boyfriends don’t understand it. That isolation is making her increasingly dependent on me. Over this past year, every day begins with her begging, “Do you love me?” Then she watches me until I’m uncomfortable.
After the third time, I’m saying through my teeth and on the brink of screaming, “…Yes.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” I have to answer her with conviction, over and over, or else she looks sad.
I’m Not Her Mother
Tina’s doctor had already diagnosed her with OCD, depression, and anxiety. Then her psychologist told my mother that Tina said she wanted to kill herself. She was put on suicide watch in the mental hospital.
“Your sister’s a drama queen,” was my mom’s response to Tina going to the psych ward. I can’t agree with her, because I don’t understand what’s going through Tina’s mind. To me, Tina is just sick and can’t be blamed for her own strange behavior.
Are you struggling with suicide or do you know someone who is? Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's 24-hour, toll-free hotline for support: (800)-273-TALK (8255).